Tourism slowly rebounding after Gulf oil spill

April 20, 2011 8:42:00 PM PDT
Tourism was hit hard after the BP explosion and oil spill, but it's slowly rebounding. People are returning to the coast. Twelve months after 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf, nothing can keep Haileigh Ford out of the water. As far as she's concerned, the oil is gone.

"It's not here anymore," said Haileigh, who was with her family in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

But last year, BP's oil ruined Haileigh's vacation.

"Al the oil. It was awful," she said. "I didn't like it. They should be more responsible than that."

On that very beach last Labor Day, tourists in bathing suits were less common than cleanup crews in space suits. But now BP cleanup crews are gone. So are the tidal pools caked with BP oil.

All that heavy machinery that was scooping up those massive piles of sand and those disgusting tar patties are all gone, too. But just because tourists have returned and the place looks like the Gulf Shores lots of us remember, it doesn't mean the memories of last year are erased and neither are the doubts.

"Where did it go?" wondered tourist Jackie Johnson. "Where did all the oil go?"

The questions confuses scientists. Answers range from evaporation into the air to consumption by bacteria to still lying as some goopy sludge on the Gulf floor.

Where it is or isn't, the uncertainty has cost Gulf Coast communities dearly. Current and future tourism losses are estimated at $300 million in Louisiana alone. Add in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama and it's worse.

"There is no closure yet," said Gulf Shores business owner Shaul Zislin. "Nobody has come out and said, 'Here is exactly what happened. Here is all the stuff we did.'"

Zislin owns the Gulf Shores beachfront bar, 'The Hangout.' He's received some of the more than $100 million BP gave to Gulf States to promote tourism. But business is still not all back to normal.

"From what I understand, there are still crews on the ground. BP has not shut it down and left and said, 'The party's over,'" said Zislin.

The message from there though is come on over, the water's warm. But more importantly to Haileigh's mom, it looks clean.

"They can go out as far as they want," said Michelle Ford, Haileigh's mother. "Everything is cleaned up."

Maybe not gone and the cleanup likely not over, but clean enough for vacation. And in Gulf Shores, that's a start.

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